A group of engineering students at Lund University in Sweden noticed there was a rather lacklustre range of veggie burgers available in supermarkets, despite a growing demand for green products. And sure enough - too many additives, no flavour, and no texture, were common complaints they came across when they asked consumers.
The food technology students didn’t stop at vegetarian, however; they set about creating a vegan burger, and one that could handle mass production and frozen distribution at that.
Their initial survey identified three key areas where consumers saw a need for improvement: more flavour, more texture and less additives.
“People have an increasing awareness of things like additives and the health effects of eating too much meat or dairy. At the same time, the effect of the foodie movement is people won’t compromise on taste or flavour to the same extent”, says Jannika Timander, the student who led the group project.
Their first problem was getting an entirely vegan product to hold together. Without being able to use eggs, and with their strict commitment to avoiding additives, they instead worked hard in the lab to make the starch from the potatoes act as a natural binding agent.
To add crunchiness and texture, they chose pieces of cauliflower and several seeds. However, the cauliflower had to be pre-blanched in order to eliminate bacteria, a criterion for keeping it safe when mass-produced. They tried three different blanching methods before finding one that retained some texture in the cauliflower. In addition, the three seeds they chose luckily survived commercial blast freezing without losing virtually any crunchiness or flavour.
The group also had to optimize the temperature in the oven, making sure the starch would behave predictably every time, even when mass produced.
“We quickly realized how different this project was from cooking at home. We had to apply everything we had learned about the science and standards of food production”, says Jannika.
When they had settled on three prototypes with different combinations of seasoning, they recruited a test panel of 30 vegetarians and vegans that chose a winner – the ‘yellow beet chili burger’. The ingredients? Yellow beets, potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, fresh chili, lemon pepper, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and salt.